Recently, an article written by a husband regarding the work he does at home has gone viral on Facebook. In a nutshell, it is a short article about a husband doing dishes and cooking, and saying this is not “helping” his wife because it is his job as much as it is hers. On the surface, this seems sweet, but it did not sit well with me. At first, I thought it was just me. But then, a few weeks later, one of the women in our private Facebook group (which you can find on The Iconic Feminine Facebook page) posted this exact same article and said it didn’t sit well with her, either.
As we started to comment, the reasons became a little clearer. While we wives appreciate efforts made by our husbands to ease some of the workload for us, most of us feel it is still our sphere of influence to care for our homes and children. I am fairly certain a feminist point of view would shudder at what is looked at as a 1950’s housewife way of viewing gender roles, and that’s fine. They aren’t my audience. But for those of you that have that little tug in the back of your mind that says, “Actually, I do feel like my husband is helping me, that the house is my domain,” I am going to try to lay out why it is we feel this way, and why it matters.
As Christians, we believe we were created by God to fulfill a purpose. We are all members of one Body, that is in Christ (1 Corinthians 12). It is my belief that we have an instinctive part of us (our nous) that understands that purpose (God is revealed in nature, Romans chapter 1), and yet we also have a side that rebels at this understanding (when I want to do good, evil is always there with me, Romans 7).
St. Dionysius the Areopagite wrote, “But the gifts of the unfailing Power pass on, both to men and living creatures, and plants, and the entire nature of the universe; and It empowers things united for their mutual friendship and communion, and things divided for their being each within their sphere and limit, without confusion, and without mingling; and preserves the order and good relations of the whole, for their own proper good, and…preserves the mutual harmony and mingling of the elements without confusion, and without division; and holds together the bond of soul and body; and arouses the nourishing and growing powers of plants; and sustains the essential powers of the whole; and secures continuance of the universe without dissolution, and bequeaths the deification Itself, by furnishing a power for this to those who are being deified.” (Caput VIII, Section V)
Ok. I know that is a lot and you may be wondering what on earth that all means and how it relates to what we are talking about here. Stay with me.
First, we see that God (the unfailing Power) has EMPOWERED all things for their sake of their own “friendship and communion.” He does this by dividing them into their own specific role and function. Their “sphere and limit” as he puts it. In our modern age, this will take some convincing (although I believe, deep down, for many it rings very true, and I would argue the very rise of feminism itself is a false way to try to create a true thing, but that is another subject for another time).
The word “empowered” is essential to understanding how this applies to our lives as wives and mothers. When we talk about our “sphere and limit” it isn’t to say there is a limit to our minds or to our hearts, to our intelligence or to our influence. It is to say that it has a place it works at its best. Power is something that must be harnessed if it is to provide any good. Take electricity. Electric power is everywhere. Static electricity causes our hair to frizz and our hands to get shocked when we touch a metal doorknob. It doesn’t provide us with light, refrigeration, or any other useful thing until it is contained and channeled into a proper conduit. It is the same with womanhood.
In St. Paul’s letter to Titus, chapter 2, he clearly outlines for women where their power lies. “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.”
It is St. Paul himself that tells us a HOLY DUTY of being a woman is “working at home.” As Christian wives and/or mothers, this should be sufficient evidence that our home is our sphere of influence. Neither St. Paul nor any other patristic source of which I am aware has ever assigned the task of managing a home to a man. On the other hand, St. John Chrysostom says, “For God assigned to woman the care of the house, to man the conduct of public affairs. But you reduce the head to the feet, and the feet to the head.” He also states, “This is the work of the devil, to subvert and confound all things, to overleap the boundaries that have been appointed from the beginning, and remove those which God has set to nature,” (Homily V on Titus). Now, I am not saying it is of itself wrong for a woman to have a job outside the home. Please do not make that leap here. Nor am I saying women should spend 100% of their time doing nothing but housework. What I am doing is establishing the boundaries, the limits, to show where power flourishes and becomes its most useful.
So, what is our power? What is it that, as women, we are uniquely qualified to do that God would assign us to this position? Honestly, this is a deep subject, filled with theological truths I am only recently beginning to understand. I will be publishing a book about a year from now on this topic, but for now, let me just share this much with you.
Women create the possible. This power is bigger and scarier than most of us have ever imagined. How big and how scary? It led to the fall of man itself. Have you ever asked yourself why Satan went after Eve and not Adam? Think about what he said to her. He gave her a vision of the possible. “If you eat this fruit you will be like God.” That’s a vision. And what did she do? She took her vision to her husband and painted for him a picture. “Adam, we can be like God. If we only take a bite, we will be.” Her words opened the doors in his mind for the possibility of disobedience.
On the other hand, we have our Blessed Mother, the Theotokos. For the non-Orthodox Christians reading this post, to be “Theotokos” means we believe she was the God-bearer. She brought the very Son of God into the world. And how? She created the possibility. This was a young girl raised in the temple, devoted to purity, whose vision was to bring forth the Messiah. According to Church tradition, she was at times tempted to sin, but never chose sin. She clung to her vision of being the pure vessel that could bring God into the world in the flesh and redeem mankind.
Our home is the environment where we nurture and grow human beings towards holiness as sure as Our Blessed Mother’s womb grew Our Savior. When we firmly plant our flag in our home and claim our high-calling to love our husbands and children, we begin to create something extraordinary. And I don’t just mean our children. I mean our husbands, too. It is not for nothing that we see that men drop out of church attendance at faster rates than their wives. That studies show that fathers who are devout have less instances of abusing their wives. That children of devout fathers are less likely to quit attending church.
Our husbands need our encouragement and vision of a Godly family. They need us to create the environment. How? It’s in the simple things. I know for my husband, a lot of it lies in assumption. I assume we are attending church together. I make sure his dress clothes are clean and ready so the momentum isn’t broken. When I plan our meals, on a Sunday afternoon, it’s “this is what we are having after church.” I don’t usurp his authority or tell him he is going. I create the momentum, I lay the groundwork.
This takes us full circle back to the viral Facebook post. Why does it just not seem to sit right? If I no longer consider caring for the home my sphere, look how things get turned upside down. Now my husband must be concerned about making sure his dress clothes are clean for Sunday (which he will usually think of ON SUNDAY MORNING). The stress of schedule disruption and a haphazard day will make going to church feel more burdensome to him. So, if I don’t have our meals planned, it turns fairly chaotic. Or we end up going out to eat (which is fine when it is part of a well thought out schedule and budget, but not so great when it means unplanned expense and stress when it’s time to pay the electric bill).
So, yes, when my husband does the dishes (and he frequently does), he most certainly is helping me. When he makes dinner so I can put more time into my business, he is most certainly helping me. When he runs our daughter over to a friend’s house so I don’t have to break my momentum, he is most certainly helping me.
What is so wrong with that? Are we that afraid to hug our husbands and say, “thank you” that we have to feel like it wasn’t our job in the first place? Or, is it more likely that we KNOW DEEP DOWN that these things are our sphere, and we feel guilty when we see our husbands taking up the slack? See, I think that is the root of all of this. It isn’t actually slack on our part. It’s really the unrealistic, perfectionistic ideals we set for our own lives. We are supposed to be able to do it all, without help. And when we see him help, it tugs at us. “If I were a better wife/mom/homemaker my husband wouldn’t have to help me.” I know for a fact I have done this to myself.
It is a lot easier to start to believe that it was his job all along than to humble ourselves and admit we can’t do it all, all the time. But I promise you, if you give it a try, you will be rewarded. Let it be your job, and let him help you with it. And thank him, sincerely, for all he does. Don’t get defensive. Don’t let your pride win the day. Give him a big hug, kiss his cheek, and thank him for lightening your load for you.
Our next post is going to explore what St. Dionysius means when he says that operating within our sphere and limit, “bequeaths the deification Itself, by furnishing a power for this to those who are being deified.” In the meantime, please post your comments and questions. Let me know what you’re thinking, what you love about this, and what you don’t! I will try to address these in my follow up post, and, ultimately, in the book.